Need for power coal threatens Zimbabwe national park

A A A

Zimbabwe's already dim electricity supply faces a new threat, as the country's main power plant says it needs to dig for new coal reserves under a river inside a national park to keep running.

Hwange Colliery says it only has enough coal to power its 940 megawatt plant for three more years.

Shortages of coal and working capital, as well as ageing and broken equipment, have already forced the shutdown of three smaller power stations across Zimbabwe, causing daily blackouts that have plagued the country for years.

The company says its only viable new deposits of coal suitable for power generation lie in the heart of the Hwange national park, under a river that supplies nearby towns - including the world-famous Victoria Falls - as well as thousands of endangered animals.

Accessing the new coal would mean strip mining one of the environmentally delicate region's few water supplies.

"The coal is submerged under water, so we have to find ways of de-watering the adjacent rivers in the area," Fred Moyo, the company's managing director, told AFP.

"We only have three years left of power coal although initial indications were that we have power coal that would take us at least another 15 years."

De-watering would shift the flow of rivers to allow access to the coal, but in the process will create huge pools of polluted water.

Hwange national park covers an area half the size of Switzerland on the edge of the Kalahari, where every drop of water is valuable. It's also home to all of Zimbabwe's endangered species, including 45,000 elephants.

Existing mines still have plenty of industrial-grade coal, but that variety burns so hot that it would overheat the generators, Moyo said.

Lovemore Mungwashu, operations coordinator for WWF, said mining the new coal reserves would pose huge problems for the region.

"Our greatest concern is how Hwange will put in place measures that will affect not only the wildlife, but communities within town," he told AFP.

"Hwange Colliery should first address how it going to handle the issue of contaminated water before it starts any underground mining and de-watering plans," he said.

Zimbabwe also has the 750 megawatt Kariba hydro-power dam, but it suffers chronic breakdowns due to a lack of spare parts and expertise, adding to pressure on Hwange.

"Hwange Colliery's role in the economy of Zimbabwe is of great strategic importance, as coal is a vital source of energy in a country where hydro-electrical power generation has perennially broken down," Moyo said.

Since President Robert Mugabe and his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed a unity government in February, the economy has slowly started to mend after a decade of collapse.

Industrial activity has been rising since the local currency was abandoned in January, but growth is limited by the scant power supply, and many industries are operating at only 10 percent of their capacity.

Zimbabwe spends millions of dollars importing electricity from its neighbours, just to keep the lights on some of the time in parts of the country, which at times goes for 15 to 20 hours without electricity.

Hwange Colliery is looking at other options, including setting up a methane gas plant that would burn fewer carbon emissions than coal and prevent the need for more mining, Moyo said.

But that would require a 10 million dollar investment, money which Zimbabwe doesn't have. Moyo said the company has lined up possible partners, but is still waiting for government approval for the project.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links